We were herded on the bus by shouts and angry stairs, “shoe off, shoe off!” Then a blue plastic bag was shoved in my hand for my shoes to be put in to. The Vietnamese bus men were a world apart from the smiles and laughs of their Thai counterparts. Hostility often runs deep in the north of Vietnam, so I entered the bus to Sapa with a slight sense of trepidation. Contorted on my provided sleeper seat, my girlfriend and I filled every part of the minimal free space with snacks and a bottle of cheap Vietnamese whiskey; taking pride of place wedged in- between us, cradling it as if it was our child. Knowing it will play the lead role in making our journey fun, but primarily bearable. A few sips in and the eventuality of our journey became quite apparent. I soon became aware that the Vietnamese people we sheared the bus with, proved not to be the greatest of travel companions. I was seated in an aisle seat and if the smallest part of my body strayed in to the aisle, one of the jolly bus boys would find great pleasure in pushing it back where it came from, with an angry slur in Vietnamese thrown in for good measure. Then the whiskey run its course and my girlfriend needed the toilet, as the bus stopped quite willingly for the locals I asked if we could stop at the next convenient point for the toilet? “No stop till half way, 2 hour” Barked the bus boy…
One bag, two bags, three bags, the rusting began to surround us. Soon there were bags everywhere, swinging with free will to the jerky rhythm of the speeding bus. Due to the constant heaving and retching of my fellow travellers around me, it left no doubt in my by now quite drunk mind what was in the bags. The final straw came when the two in front of us hung there brimming bag on the back of their seat, leaving it to dangle and sway quite ominously above my lap. I gave my girlfriend a kiss, took one hell of a swig of whiskey, closed my eyes and prayed the bus turned into some kind of time machine, which transported us to Sapa at warp speed. Chance would be a fine thing, the people kept heaving, the bus boys kept pushing and those bags kept filling.
We began to ascend the winding roads to Sapa, finely! Still dark, the bus driver was sticking to the inside of every corner with the execution of a F1 driver but the vehicle of a…..Well, bus. He drove, raced, relying on the other vehicles headlights for indication of an imminent collision. God help the poor soul trundling along upon buffalo and kart.
We were nearing Sapa when the night grew tired and the day began to stir and awaken. By now there were a few spare seats so I had moved across the aisle from my girlfriend to get more space. I lay back tilted my head to the side and peered out the window. The mist was beginning to clear as the sun breached the furthest mountain. We began driving around a huge sweeping bend that offered a perfect vantage point to witness the whole valley below, if only it was light! Then, just as if the sun planed it, it released its first ray of light as we approached the half-way point of the bend, turning the river completely pink. This water from another world ran winding into the distance as far as the eye could see; a line of bright pink infinity, cutting through the darkness. The next ray of light came highlighting the agglomeration of rocks on one side of the river, then the other side. They were only slightly captured, but the silhouettes of the strewn rocks were bold with only certain jagged edges being glanced by the sun. A few seconds later the sides of the valley were illuminated, stretching up from the river’s edge revelling perfectly cultivated rows of rice paddies that hugged the sides of the mountains so beautifully, they looked as if they grew upon the mountains back at the dawn of time. All this together was a sight for sore eyes; the light was now perfect, showing off the prehistoric vista in all its glory.
I wanted to wake my girlfriend so she could witness it, but I was awestruck; my eyes never blinked, my body never moved, I was captivated! I have to thank Mother Nature for noticing the imbalance of my journey and providing me with the most beautiful view my eyes have ever witnessed.
With a smile on my face and a memory in my mind, into Sapa we drove.